(‘Tis the season for secular Jews, and humanistic Jews, to balance their dual loyalties to rationality and “ethnoreligious” identity. I see more that contradicts and competes than is complementary. Do “secular Jews” want the benefits of both identities without the full responsibilities of either?—Josh)
Keeping Hanukkah, while letting go of God: For the Secular Jewish Community of Oak Park, the reshaping of holiday tradition is both a challenge and an accomplishment
By TOM HOLMES, Contributing Writer
At sundown on Dec. 11, many Jews around the world will light the first Hanukkah candle in their homes and say, “Baruch atta Adonai, eloheinu melech a’olam - Blessed are you Lord God, king of the universe.”
That night, at a Jewish home in north Oak Park [, Chicago] - a home like dozens throughout the area - Elisa Lapine family’s will light their first Hanukkah candle and say “Baruch zemahn shel simhah, z’man shel or tikvah laohlahm - Blessed is the time of our celebration, time of light for hope in the world.”
For this family and others in the Secular Jewish Community and School of Oak Park, there’s no mention of God in blessings to be said during the coming eight-day holiday. Like the Jews who belong to Oak Park Temple B’nai Abraham Zion and to West Suburban Temple Har Zion in River Forest, this group of about 60 faithful values culture: history, music, literature and social justice. But unlike their counterparts at these local synagogues and many Jews worldwide, they draw the line at religion. . . .
Both [founders] grew up with parents who, they say, didn’t buy the God piece of being Jewish. Yet at the same time, Lapine and Brode feel, as their parents did, very Jewish.
Brode’s parents took her to Jewish art exhibits and had klezmer music playing on the stereo at home. The family would gather Friday nights to celebrate a day of rest, and they’d regularly travel together to Israel.
Lapine’s parents were part of a group that, in the late 1960s, helped found a secular Jewish community in Cleveland, Ohio. “They were essentially atheists who were identified as Jews culturally,” she says, “and they wanted us their children to have a Jewish education that was more relevant and more activist, so they created this community.”
She remembers loving the Hebrew school that the community ran on Sundays. It was a chance to meet up with Jewish friends, sing and dance, eat bagels with cream cheese, and learn some Yiddish. And even in a Jewish community defined as secular, there were gray areas, Lapine recalls. Her parents kept a kosher home. “They grew up in orthodox homes. They were not religious, but this is what they knew.” . . .
[Cara Shaprio, association president] and her daughter will say the secular blessing at Sunday School with the rest of the community. When the two of them light the candles at home, they’ll say the traditional blessing. “I kind of like the fact,” Shapiro says, “that I’ve got this tiny little traditional piece stuck in my head. And my daughter knows it, and we can do it together.”